I celebrated the sober moments of Kris Orlowski‘s Fremont Abbey EP as “tunes that a man could make a career out of purveying,” while downplaying the more upbeat sections. I hate to write the same review twice, but I have the same response to Orlowski’s Warsaw. The gravitas imported into the darker tunes makes them memorable; the amorphous qualities of the happier tunes render them pallid.
“Way You Are,” the early release from this four-song offering, is a slow-building force. Instead of his previous acoustic guitar and strings, Orlowski employs a low-distortion, maximum-low-end electric with a bass/drums rhythm section to create an earthy, low-slung sound. The rumbling toms and treble-less guitars combine into a powerful beast, which is then given a direction by the haunting vocal performances of both Orlowski and his back-up singers. The arrangement is impeccable, and the overall effect is dramatic and immediate.
I would have titled the EP Way You Are, because “Warsaw” is a pleasant but undifferentiated tune that tells me nothing about Orlowski as a songwriter except that he has a fondness for pedal steel that extends beyond country music. “Soldier On” is a mite better, in that it employs a similar guitar tone as “Way You Are,” but there’s not really anything else to praise or insult about it when considering the force of “Way You Are” and “Oh No.”
The distant organ and spacious arrangement of “Oh No” evoke high points of the best dusty, wide-open-landscape tracks. The insistent drumming pushes the weary single-note picking ahead, while Orlowski holds dreary court with his vocals. The acoustic guitar is placed low in the mix, foregrounding the tension between the urgent and laconic. It’s like Bruce Springsteen on a Walkmen kick (but far too peppy for it to be the reverse, even if it is on the darker side of things), and it’s worth a second listen.
There’s something to be said for the fact that “Way You Are” and “Oh No” both break the 5:30 mark, while “Soldier On” and “Warsaw” both clock in exactly at 3:38. Orlowski is still playing both sides of the coin, but I have yet to be sold on his more perky stuff. His darker material shows a much closer attention to atmosphere, texture and arrangement; it engages me as a listener.
If Orlowski can bring that level of detail to his pop moments, they would be just as good as his heavier singer/songwriter material—it just hasn’t happened yet. Here’s to hoping that happens; “Way You Are” is really, really good. Grab that song here for free.